The first year of college is an important step in a teenager's life. It's the time when they become responsible for their studies and their personal lives without the constant presence of teachers and parents. For students with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), the transition is more complicated than simply balancing work, study, and play time. Fortunately, colleges and universities now have programs and resources available for the student with chronic health problems. Those starting college now, as well as high school seniors looking to choose a college, can use the following ideas to make the move easier.
Fatigue is a very serious issue that can easily result in missed classes if not treated. One way to manage fatigue is to balance courses over the year with the help of a counselor. For example, some students may be able to handle 18 credits with no problem, but for the student with a chronic illness 12 to 14 credits may be more appropriate. Students can also discuss the study time needed outside of class with an advisor or counselor. It's possible that time intensive courses can be spaced over a student's college career so that no one semester is particularly grueling.
Getting Medical Care
Many college campuses have health centers, and it's likely the new student with IBD will be spending some time there. A new student will want to know where the health center is located, what services are available, and how much they cost. Staff may even be available during orientation week for a "meet and greet" session or a special health fair. Taking advantage of these programs can result in the first steps toward building a good relationship with the medical and support staff.
It may also be helpful for a student's hometown doctor to provide medical records to the health center. Then when flare-ups do happen the health center staff will be prepared. If more specialized treatment is necessary, the health center should also able to recommend a local gastroenterologist or hospital.
A sticky question is whether or not to discuss a chronic illness with professors, advisors, and other college staff. This will be a very personal choice for every student. An advisor is usually a good choice as a confidant, as they will be most helpful in scheduling courses. Advisors will also get to know the student well as they will be working together for the students' entire college career. Professors may also need to know, especially if classes or tests are missed because of illness. It may feel like being back in grade school, but professors often ask for a note from a doctor, so students should have one available.
Housing and Common Restrooms
Housing can be a major issue now that many colleges require freshman to live on campus in dorms that have common restroom facilities. If a student has concerns about sharing a bathroom, or how far their room is from the bathroom, they should discuss it with someone on the housing staff. Here's where a doctor's note explaining IBD will be useful once again. There may be a moment or two of embarrassment for the student, but housing staff will likely do their best to be accommodating.
If a student feels they are being treated unfairly because of a chronic health condition, they can contact the university ombudsman. An ombudsman is an arbitrator who takes an impartial stance and works with students to resolve conflicts. The ombudsman should only be contacted when the student has exhausted all of their options to get a situation resolved. An ombudsman may also help identify new courses of action to solve a problem for a student.
The ultimate goal is to make the college experience rewarding on all levels. Many colleges and universities have programs already in place to help disabled or chronically ill students. Getting in touch with an advisor or other staff member and finding available help is the best way to start a great college career.